Brain Science: Will Science Make Selling Impossible in the Future?

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Nov 212011

Brain Science: Will Science Make Selling Impossible in the Future?

Brain Science: Neuroscience is proving what sales pros have long suspected: Customers decide with their emotions, not their brains.

By Geoffrey James |  @Sales_Source   | Nov 18, 2011| Via Inc. Magazine

Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system. It’s a big deal in the academic world—and it could end up being a big deal in the business world, too. Here’s why.

In recent years, neuroscientists have begun to examine how the brain behaves and changes when buying and selling is taking place.

For example, there’s been research into brain activity suggesting that decision-making does not take place in the neocortex (where the brain processes language, abstraction, planning, and perception). Instead, it appears that people make decisions in the limbic system, the more-basic level of the brain that controls the hormones responsible for feeding, reproductive behavior, and parental behavior.

Apparently, the limbic system is the source of the pleasure that people feel when they solve problems. And that’s what happens when people buy things.

In other words, neuroscience is now proving what many sales professionals have long suspected: that decision-making, even among top executives, takes place mostly at a “gut” level.

Other neuroscientists are using brain scans to measure variations in electrical activity while people are buying and selling things.

It is now possible to scan the brains of people viewing sales presentations to see whether or not they’re being convinced. Don’t be surprised if some of this research proves that your much-loved “closing techniques” are actually annoying your customers.

Does that sound like science fiction? Well, it turns out that there are already companies using neuroscience to assess the emotional state of potential buyers.

For example, the start-up Affectiva is marketing a “wearable, wireless biosensor that measures emotional arousal via skin conductance [which] grows higher during states such as excitement, attention, or anxiety and lower during states such as boredom or relaxation.”

And Affectiva isn’t some fly-by-night blue-sky company, either. I happen to have interviewed the CEO, David Berman, back when he was president of sales and service at Webex. He’s a sales guy, through and through, and you can bet that he “gets” how this technology will change the world of sales and marketing.

But companies like Affectiva (which is based upon MIT research) are just the start of a huge wave of sales-oriented neuroscience.

For example, Meghana A. Bhatt, a fellow at Baylor College of Medicine’s department of neuroscience, recently used brains scans to determine how people’s minds work when they’re trying to get somebody else to believe something that’s not true.

The study monitored the brains of 76 volunteers who took part in a “bargaining game” between a “buyer” and a “seller.” Scans of the participants’ brains during the game revealed that a “very significant difference in brain responses” between those who bluffed and those who didn’t.

Now think about that for a second.

There now exists a device that can tell whether you are telling the truth when you’re trying to sell something. Project that technology 30 years into the future.

It’s not hard to imagine sales negotiations taking place in “BS-free” zones, where it’s impossible to bluff without the other person knowing that you’re bluffing.

What’s hard to imagine is what “selling” would look like in that kind of business environment. Or, indeed, whether selling would be achievable at all. What do you think about that possibility?
Geoffrey James

Geoffrey James is an award-winning journalist and author of’s Sales Source column. Previously, he wrote Sales Machine, the world’s most-visited sales-oriented blog. James has written hundreds of articles on sales and marketing for publications like Technology Marketing and SellingPower, and has helped dozens of sales training and technology vendors communicate more effectively with their customers. James’ new book How to Say It: Business to Business Selling is set to hit shelves in early December. If you’ve got a question about selling or want to get his newsletter, visit James’ website


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